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Our Bodies, Ourselves - a review by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective


The story of how the Boston Women's Health Book Collective's "Our Bodies,Ourselves for the New Century" (OBOS) came into being is lengthy and satisfying. The first version of the book, titled "Women and Their Bodies", was printed in 1970. Our site maintains links to the prefaces from various editions of the book, as well as various articles on the history of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" and the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

From the Preface in the 1973 Edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

In the spring of 1969, a group of us met at a women's conference in Boston. The conference was one of the first gatherings of women meeting specifically to talk with other women. For many of us, it was the first time we had joined together with other women to talk and think about our lives and what we could do about them. At one point, we took part in a small discussion group on "women and their bodies." Not wanting the discussion to end, some of us decided to keep on meeting as a group after the conference.

women 2001 iii - by Birte Hella
women 2001 iii

by Birte Hella

In the beginning, we called ourselves "the doctor's group." We had all experienced similar feelings of frustration and anger toward specific doctors and the medical maze in general. Initially, we wanted to do something about those doctors who were condescending, paternalistic, judgmental, and non-informative. As we talked and shared our experiences with one another, we realized just how much we had to learn about our bodies. So we decided on a summer project: to research those topics which we felt were particularly pertinent to learning about our bodies, to discuss in the group what we had learned, to write papers individually or in groups of two or three, and finally, to present the results in the fall as a course for women on women and their bodies.

From the very beginning of working together, we have felt exhilarated and energized by our new knowledge. Finding out about our bodies and our bodies' needs, starting to take control over that area of our lives-this released for us an energy that has overflowed into our work, our friendships, our relationships with men and women, our marriages, and our parenthood. In trying to figure out why this has had such a life-changing effect on us, we have come up with several important ways in which this kind of body education has been liberating for us, and may be a starting point for the liberation of many other women.

From: Norma, Pam, Judy, Nancy, Paula, Ruth, Wilma, Esther, Jane, Wendy, and Joan.



Welcome to "Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century"! We offer first-time readers and old friends a greatly updated and expanded book that remains true to its beginnings. First published in 1970, the book grew out of a course by and for women about health, sexuality, and childbearing.

Unlike most health books on the market, Our Bodies, Ourselves is unique in many respects: It is based on, and has grown out of, hundreds of women's experiences. It questions the medicalization of women's bodies and lives and highlights holistic knowledge along with conventional biomedical information. It places women's experiences within the social, political, and economic forces that determine all of our lives, thus going beyond individualistic, narrow "self-care" and self-help approaches, and views health in the context of the sexist, racist, and financial pressures that affect far too many girls, women, and families adversely. It condemns medical corporate misbehavior driven by "bottom-line" management philosophy and the profit motive. Most of all, Our Bodies, Ourselves encourages you to value and share your own insights and experiences; and to use its information to question the assumptions underlying the care we all receive so that we can deal effectively with the medical system and organize for better care.

One of the most valuable things we did in our early years together was to talk in small groups about our lives. In doing so, we were reclaiming an important part of our common heritage as women who have always, in traditional communities, achieved wisdom by exchanging experiences with one another. We encourage you to meet together, to speak out and listen to each other, and to learn from each other. We recognize that in these times, more women must work harder than ever before, and have very little time left over, even for our families. See what you can do close to home, in your living rooms, in your communities. Seek each other out at church, synagogue, or mosque; at the YWCA, a nearby women's center, and at informal gatherings. Find ways to support the work of nonprofit groups whose efforts you value. Talk together and organize around crucial issues. Fighting back can be good for you and can feel good, too!

We gain political strength by identifying what we have in common, respecting the special needs of each group, and standing in unity. Despite everyone's efforts, this unity remains fragile. We are still evolving ways to form communities that will stand in solidarity with one another. Too often, differences in race, class, ethnicity, financial circumstance, sexual orientation, values, strategies, and degrees of power make it difficult to listen to one another, and therefore divide us. By telling the truth about our lives, women with dissimilar backgrounds and experiences make it more possible for every woman's voice to be heard, and for every woman's life to be nurtured. To transform the world into a healthy place we need the energy of all women.

Excerpted from the preface to the 1998 edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves for the New Century". Written by Jane Pincus, with special thanks to Ruth Bell Alexander, Joan Ditzion, Vilunya Diskin, Paula Doress-Worters, Linda King, Elizabeth MacMahon-Hererra, Judy Luce, Judy Norsigian, Jamie Penney, Wendy Sanford, Norma Swenson, Sally Whelan, Jennifer Yanco, and Kiki Zeldes.

Reading "Our Bodies, Ourselves"

Every woman has a story about her first copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves". Do you remember the first time you read it? Here is your chance to help record and remember a significant book that has influenced women around the globe for over three decades. Share your memories by completing the online survey which will be used by historian Wendy Kline at the University of Cincinnati.

See what others have to say! With your consent, your answers will be posted along with other responses on this site, unless you indicate that you want to restrict access to your responses to researchers.


BIO: The Boston Women's Health Book Collective is a nonprofit, public interest women's health education, advocacy, and consulting organization. The BWHBC provides clear, truthful information about health, sexuality, and reproduction from a feminist and consumer perspective. We vigorously advocate for women's health by challenging the institutions and systems that block women from full control over our bodies and devalue our lives. Our long-standing commitment to serve only in the public interest and our bridge-building capacity are our hallmarks. We remain one of the few women's health groups in the U.S. that doesn't accept funds from pharmaceutical companies and that tries to be scrupulous about conflict of interest.


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